A ceasefire agreed by Armenia and Azerbaijan came into effect Saturday at noon local time (8am GMT) aimed at ending nearly two weeks of heavy fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, but mutual accusations of violations quickly followed.
Armenia and Azerbaijan traded accusations of new aggression shortly after the Russia-brokered truce came into effect. Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said that Azerbaijani forces had launched an attack on the front line "in disregard of the previously declared humanitarian ceasefire".
Azerbaijan's defence ministry, for its part, said Armenian forces had also carried out attacks on the front line and were shelling two populated areas. "Armenia is blatantly violating the ceasefire regime," the ministry said in a statement.
Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces also accused each other of firing missiles and rockets on civilian areas on Saturday morning, shortly before the ceasefire was due to start.
Bombing sirens that had been sounding all morning fell silent as the ceasefire deadline passed, an AFP journalist in the city said, and residents were venturing out of their homes after days of taking shelter from shelling, rocket fire and drone attacks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said earlier Saturday that Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on the ceasefire to exchange prisoners and bodies of those killed in the conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Lavrov, who mediated the negotiations in Moscow, announced the ceasefire at 3am (midnight GMT) after 10 hours of talks with his Armenian and Azeri counterparts. He also said Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to start talks on the settlement of the conflict.
The talks were the first diplomatic contact between the enemies since fighting over the breakaway enclave erupted on September 27, killing hundreds of people.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov did not speak to reporters after negotiations in Moscow.
The mountain enclave belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but broke away in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed, and it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
The renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
The clashes have also increased concern about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
Azerbaijan said on Friday that 31 Azeri civilians had been killed and 168 wounded since September 27. It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh said 376 of its military personnel and 22 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the conflict.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)